South Africa: Controversial Health Minister Dies and Twitter Goes Wild

South Africa's former Health Minister, Manto Tshabalala-Msimang passed away recently. Manto was not a stranger to controversy with dodgy views on managing HIV-AIDS as well as questionable behaviour including using her position to secure herself a healthy liver after hers were damaged due to heavy drinking.

She was known as Dr. Beetroot because of promoting the benefits of beetroot, garlic, lemons, and African potatoes in the fight against AIDS.

It is for these reasons that she never ceased to be a favourite topic in the mainstream media and indeed the blogosphere. Even Global Voices Online has seen her name in its headlines, twice.

Her death has sparked comments in the blogosphere but the responses on Twitter to her death have garnered more attention.

Some Twitter Responses To Manto's Death

@charliehuman: don't think ‘cultural tradition’ comes into speaking about Manto at all. It's not like there's a cultural monopoly on respect for the dead – Link

@aidencholes: Fact about SA's response to Manto's death: it's the whites who are happy she is dead – Link

@hayibo: More than 300,000 unable to forgive Manto – because they are already dead after being refused ARV's.

@ne3tz: Who gives a shit about manto?Now ppl want to respect her cos she's dead? reminds me of when MJ was alive n ppl hated him, then respected him - Link

Blog posts around Manto's Death
Stuff posted a picture in a tribute to the health minister with no adjoining explanation so it could mean anything you want it to…

Democratic Capitalist has this to say on Manto…:

Its amazing how when somebody dies all of her supporters suddenly can think of all the good things she did for society. The reality is that her policies around HIV / AIDs cost hundreds of thousands of lives and have been one of the largest post-apartheid social injustices perpetuated on South Africans.

She is not a hero and should not be treated as one. She was out of her depth from the time she was appointed health minister and her refusal to acknowledge her short-comings meant that many other people suffered.

For those jumping out to defend her, just clarify whether you are doing it as a way of taking advantage of some easy PR or whether you truly believed she offered a lot.

Its interesting to note that according to a poll on News24 – 93% of recipients believe she will be remembered for her failure to tackle HIV in South Africa.

Betty Noire has a lot to say not so much on Manto but on her replacement in the Health Ministry:

One would have thought that it is impossible to achieve a more insane appointment than Manto Tshabalala-Msimang in the national health portfolio. Turns out, not.

What is Aaron Motsoaledi thinking? And WHERE does he find the time to produce draft regulations LEGISLATING THE AMOUNT OF CAFFEINE IN DECAFFEINATED COFFEE? Proposed legislation would, apparently, make it mandatory for ground decaf coffee to contain “not less than 0.12 percent caffeine”.


This question rang in my head, like a crazy bell, the moment I heard Jenny CW mention it on 702 at lunch time. And then I read the story in the Star when I stopped at Vida for a take-away between Atlas Studios and Interbrand Sampson. And then I googled it when I got home tonight. And nobody, NOBODY has provided an answer. Is this an international standard? Does Illy’s water-method decaf actually contain that much caffeine anyway? You would THINK that any journalist worth their salt (WE ARE SO DEVOID, IT WOULD SEEM) would ask WHY?

WHY? WHY? (It’s on the front page of the biggest daily broadsheet in the country. You would hope that the story would get more attention than a 5 minute edit by a junior sub.)

How can this possibly be important in a country where the doctors are either on strike or filling in work application forms for Canada, where the public hospitals are a disgrace, where no working strategy for dealing with HIV and Aids have been put in place and where the concept of primary health care is, well, like… prenatal.


An adjoining story which garnered far more attention was Radio Presenter Gareth Cliff‘s response to her death and the subsequent fallout. Upon hearing about Manto's death, Gareth wrote on his Twitter page:

Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers — all 3 of them …

Radio Review covers off Gareth Cliff's Twitter postings…:

I see Gareth Cliff from 5FM is taking some flak in the Twitterverse (big whoop) and the media about some comments he made about former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.
A couple of his “Tweets” included:
“That woman – Manto – and her policies on AIDS sent many thousands of people to their graves early. She added no value to SA”
“Why do people think the dead deserve respect? They’re dead. Even the law is unequivocal: dead people have no rights”
“Manto is dead. Good. A selfish and wicked bungler of the lowest order. Rotten attitude and rancid livers – all 3 of them… “

Personally I think he is just saying what other people were thinking. I find it amazing that everybody is suddenly jumping to Mantos defence when they were happy to kick her when she was making stupid policies…

Other Twitter posts around the same subject (there are, ofcourse, many more)…

@GarethCliff: Relieved about Manto. I was worried she'd finish all our Phuza before 2010 – Link

@steenbras: Not really @garethcliff's greatest fan, but nothing wrong with what he said about Manto. Wholeheartedly agree. – Link

@bregre: i agree with gareth cliff, screw manto, dead or alive. What kimd of cretin ups herself on the donor list, then dies, and then everyone actl – Link

@tsa_london: “Manto is dead. Good, ” tweeted shock-jock Gareth Cliff. Should he be fired?

@6000: @garethcliff on his Manto tweet < - misses the point. You don't HAVE to vocalise every feeling, control yourself! - Link

Blogposts around Gareth Cliff's comments…

From Democratic Capitalist

It has been interesting today to watch the media fall-out today from the death of former health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

Of course without fail, the ANC Youth League has jumped on the band-wagon and hammered radio presenter Gareth Cliff for his “tweets” which many described as thoughtless / careless / inappropriate.

Appropriateness of the tweet? Who knows who cares?

And Gareth Cliff's own rebuttal on his blog in his post “Much Ado About Manto!”

I am astounded by the emotional overreaction of a group of people over my comments about the death of Former Health Minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang.

My opinion of her in life was not a particularly favourable one and I am sure she might have thought the same of me – but this is of no import. Now that she is dead, it would appear I am required to put up the pretence that I am sad for it. I'm afraid I can't be quite so pious.

To her family: Losing a mother, grandmother or relative is a horrible experience. You have my sympathy – on a human level – but you can take heart from all the notables paying their respects. I doubt mine would matter.

Minister Tshabalala-Msimang presided over the most disastrous policy decisions in South African medical history. While Minister she resolutely refused to accept the wide scientific consensus on the links between HIV and AIDS and brooked not a stitch of opposition to her refusal to provide anti-retroviral medication to, among others, pregnant women suffering from AIDS. Her tendency to accept the theories of widely discredited quacks like Matthias Raath and the unquestioning support of her boss, Thabo Mbeki, further distanced her from the people she was appointed to help.

An Open Letter to Gareth Cliff from Tumi:

Dear Gareth Rhydal Cliff,

I don’t follow you on twitter, I don’t listen to your radio show, I have never tried to watch your talk show and I can’t ignore you on Idols, I try. I am not a fair man, but if I were, I would say you make valid layman critiques of people’s talents or lack thereof. I would say you are a successful and loveable South African personality worth all the attention and endorsements you get. But I am not saying that. Oh no, I am saying you are an idiot.

The death of South Africa’s former Health Minister Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang has brought the worst out of you. I heard/read of her death through a tweet of yours retweeted by someone I follow.

Should Gareth Cliff be Fired?, wonders South Africa's YouTube celebrity Khaya Dlanga:

We have long tolerated Gareth Cliff, earlier this year when Mike Tyson’s four-year-old daughter died, he wrote on twitter that he couldn’t believe that people were mourning the death of a member of the Tyson household. Of course we will not dishonour his death by saying the things he said about others when his time comes.

A gentleman by the name Clive Simkins then defended Gareth and said to me, “Truth must always triumph over ‘compassion’ or we live a lie”. Truth and compassion are not contradictory virtues. One can be truthful and compassionate at the same time. Just as one can be truthful and still be merciful towards Manto, no matter how angry one is at the policy she had to push. Mercy means ceasing to hate. What is the point of hating a dead person? What makes us human and makes us better than who we are is forgiving the unforgivable. This is why so many hold Nelson Mandela in such high regard. As La Rochefoucauld once said, “We forgive so long as we love”. Much anger I sense, anger leads to the dark side Gareth, I’m sure Master Yoda would have said that to you.

Recent speculation said that Gareth Cliff got suspended for his comments, however this was rejected by Gareth himself…

@GarethCliff: Nobody has been suspended. Again, unless you hear it from me, it's bulls*%t. G – Link

Overall, the main element which stands out from this event is the power of Twitter and Social Media and its effect on mainstream media and politics. There are many examples worldwide of similar effects and politicians and celebrities would be wise to heed the warning and think before they tweet.


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